Cache Valley to get Utah's newest ski resort despite hurdles

Wednesday , August 20, 2014 - 6:11 PM

To open a ski resort from scratch, John Chadwick said, one needs a lot of money, usually from other people, and a lot of land. Then, before the first slope is cleared, the first foundation poured or the first life hoisted, one needs to appease a lot of people.

Chadwick’s new ski area, Cherry Peak Resort, is slated to open sometime this winter after four years of planning and lawsuits. It’s the state’s first new resort built from the ground up since Deer Valley opened in 1981, and it seems there’s a reason for that.

“Keeping everyone happy is quite a job,” he said. “You have to be a masochist to get it done. Getting it done on government property would be next to impossible.”

Most of Utah’s ski resorts operate on U.S. Forest Service land, which has strict management policies regulating ski operations. Cherry Peak will be one of those few resorts developed private land, around 200 acres of it, which has been in Chadwick’s family since the late 1960s. Still, that land sits nestled between the Richmond Wildlife Management Area to the west and the Mount Naomi Wilderness to the east which has caused some concerns among local conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts.

Perhaps in part to assuage local concerns, and perhaps in part to promote his new business venture, Chadwick offers free summertime tours of his resort. It starts near the future ski lodge site, which currently consists of a concrete foundation. From his four-seater ATV, Chadwick clamors up the hill’s summit, pointing out future locations of the ski lifts and runs along the way. The resort’s namesake peak looms about three miles to the east.

Upon completion, it will have around 1,265 feet of vertical and around 20 runs. That’s not enough to compete with bigger resorts in Utah, but it’s certainly enough to pull the locals for a few hours on the weekend and for night skiing after work or school.  

“Beaver (Mountain) is our biggest competition, but we’re hoping to make new skiers rather than take any away,” Chadwick said. “The drive to the other resorts form here is kind of a pain, so a lot of people that could go don’t because they don’t have the time.”

The terrain, however, is likely to impress skiers and riders who chase steeper lines, too. It covers the vertiginous south side of the canyon, and will have only three beginner runs and five intermediate. By Chadwick’s calculation, around 60 percent of the runs will be advanced.

If anything, Cherry Peak will likely snare newbies with its accessibility and long hours. It’s about 20 minutes from downtown Logan, three miles from the small farming town of Richmond, and will be open for night skiing until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

When asked about his bold decision to keep the resort closed Sunday, usually a high-traffic day for ski resorts, Chadwick replied without pause.

“It’s a religious decision,” he said. “And yes, we know we’re not going to make as much money, but we don’t care.”

Chadwick grew up in Cache Valley, raised his children there, and has worked as a developer for the past 20-plus years. He said his past developments were never controversial, however, probably because they were all residential projects.

“It’s a shame, that interest groups can do that much to affect someone’s private property rights, that I got stuck with tens of thousands of dollars of attorney’s fees,” he said. “And who does it hurt? Everyone who wanted to ski. We’re a year behind.”

While he’s free to clear trees and build on his private land, operation of a ski resort on Chadwick’s property is tied to a conditional use permit issued by Cache County. Locals in opposition to the ski resort plans appealed the county’s decision to issue Chadwick’s permit, citing concerns of impacts to Richmond’s water supply,  impacts to local roads from increased traffic and impacts to local wildlife and hunting success. Last year, however, Cherry Peak’s developers triumphed in district court. Local petitioners said they have no plans to appeal further. 

By most accounts, Chadwick’s project has moved fast despite the snags from protestors. He started building up the site about four years ago, with encouragement and support from Ski Utah and the ski industry. Much of the resort’s infrastructure has come through networking with other ski areas. 

A lift has already been raised. It came from Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, who had no need for it after it upgraded to a high-speed quad. Another lift is on its way from Idaho’s Sun Valley resort, and a third is coming from Squaw Valley at Lake Tahoe. Around 120 used lights sit in boxes, ready to be installed for night skiing. 

Cherry Peak Resort’s lifts and runs don’t have names yet. Sitting at the resort’s highest point, which will be accessed by the third lift, Chadwick chucks rocks over the ridge which arc through the air then clamor down the slope. He said changes in government regulations, spurred by special interest groups, have also made it difficult for fledgling ski resorts to gain footing.

“The government requirements now have made it really hard to function and create jobs,” he said. “And you’d think the government would want to create jobs a little faster, but they’re so afraid of the special interests that everything goes at a snail’s pace, which is why our economy goes at a snail’s pace.”

Cherry Peak Resort’s summit offers a wide view of Cache Valley’s patchwork of agricultural fields and clusters of small towns, including the resort’s future feeder town, Richmond. Among the locals, the general attitude toward the ski resort seems to fall somewhere between skepticism and cautious optimism. Even with its snowmaking operation, the resort lies at a relatively low elevation, and it’s being developed during a period of climate change that’s whittling away the skiable season.

Chadwick is looking to cover those bases, too, following suit with many other mountain resorts to make his site a year-round destination rather than just a place to ski. It’ll have space to rent for family reunions and weddings. In the winter, Cherry Peak will also have tubing and ice skating. In the summer, it’ll have horseback riding, zip lining, mountain biking and a waterslide. Still, he said he plans on keeping things as low-key as possible. Chadwick’s own favorite ski resorts are the no-frills local hills at Beaver Mountain and Powder Mountain.

“We just want to build out what we’ve got and enjoy it, and make it better every year,” he said. “We don’t have grandiose ideas of acquiring additional property.”

At the tour’s end, back by the lodge’s foundation, Chadwick said he didn’t have a firm idea of when the resort will officially open for the winter. The Cherry Peak Resort website lists a target date of Thanksgiving, although it’s now been pushed back to sometime in December.

“We can make snow, so it depends on when we’re done with all this construction,” he said.

At least Chadwick won’t need approval from Mother Nature for the grand opening.

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